How to Survive PC Review
Zombies have been used an unbelievable amount of times now; I can’t imagine just how many Films/TV shows/Video Games include the lovable biters, but needless to say there aren’t that many that are any good. OK well maybe there are, but the bad outweighs the good tenfold that’s for sure. There aren’t even many games that seem to implement in-depth ‘survival’ mechanics with success bar the odd one such as Metal Gear Solid 3 with its crazy broken-bone-fixing mechanics, and I think it’s about time developers go out on a limb (no pun intended) and try something new in the survival genre. How to Survive is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to scavenging for and combining items.
Before lopping any heads you are given a choice of three characters to play – Kenji, the accurate all-rounder, Abby, the Athlete and Jack, the strong fat-man. Each of the three characters has different starting stats such as health, stamina, strength and precision although stats are increased as you progress.
As with anything involving zombies, your first priority is to avoid being eaten. In How to Survive, zombies move at all different paces. I personally am not a huge fan of the sprinting zombies found in Left 4 Dead and such (a great game don’t get me wrong), and believe that the variation in movement speed makes for a much more unpredictable and immersive experience. A single zombie for example, can be eliminated quickly, quietly and without the cost of ammo, but when a faced with fifteen zombies all coming at you at different paces, you begin to prioritise and eliminate those that pose the biggest threat. To make things more interesting, some zombies wear armour such as helmets that must be knocked off before a head shot will be effective or body armour than makes body shots completely useless.
In order to survive you will need to scavenge. Various plants and fruit can be consumed and combined for different effects. Materials can also be used to create healing tools such as bandages. Many items have little use until combined with other items, but you will constantly need to choose which items you should take and which you should leave behind as inventory space is very limited. All sorts of weapons and equipment can be made and modified, but these often require a range of different parts and tools. Some hand-made guns for example, require a minimum of five parts which may be located near one another or may just waste valuable inventory space. What makes this mechanic so interesting is how you often need to pick between a tool that may or may not be useful soon, and healing items or extra ammunition. The problem is that without upgrading weapons and forging new ones, you stand little chance of surviving the night, a large horde or a tyrant attack.
As well as your usual stumbling and mumbling zombies, you will come across other monsters with their own form of attack. Some vicious crawlers only attack at night; fat zombies explode when shot (and make you cry with laughter when they run); and huge, powerful tyrants that charge and throw zombies at you – living or dead. This is where your choice of equipment pays off. Without a flashlight, you are unlikely to survive the constant onslaught of (what I call) crawlers throughout the night. Without a long ranged weapon with ammo, you won’t be able to kill the fat guys without being caught in the blast, and without a decent, upgraded weapon of sorts, you may struggle to kill a tyrant.
When playing How to Survive on PC, you have the option to play with a game pad as well as the obvious keyboard and mouse. With the gamepad, the controls work great. Simply push the right analogue stick in any direction to aim, allowing you to move one way while aiming another easily. Aiming at a target for a moment (depending on your character and stats) will reduce the white circle target indicator into a red cross symbolising a head shot. It is so easy and somewhat satisfying to walk through an entire area picking off zombies quietly with a bow and re-collecting the arrows as you pass, so much in fact that it’s very easy to get over-confident, a little cocky, and end up attracting a little too much attention.
Throughout your travels you will come across chapters of a book called (you guessed it) ‘How to Survive’ written by a survivor called Kovac who you will meet on occasion and learn a few things. The chapters show you a funny little animation explaining one of the elements of survival such as how to gather water, staying hydrated and the effects of dehydration. Different health mechanics are added early on having been explained to you by Kovac himself and include tiredness, hunger, health and hydration.
Hunger can be quenched by some fruits and plants but, for the most part, you will need meat. Meat can be obtained from wild life including wild dear, seagulls and ostrich, but watch out for the zombie animals as they run much faster than you and can prove difficult to kill. In order to prepare the meat, you will also need to cook it at a campfire; fresh meat is only good for attracting zombies. Tiredness can only be cured via a rare type of fruit or by sleeping. However, you cannot sleep anywhere unless you want to end up a free meal. Instead, you need to find a reinforced shelter. Opening the door of said shelter will set off a alarm, attracting a horde of zombies and other monsters to your position, but if you manage to survive the onslaught, the shelter will be zombie-free indefinitely. Like food, water can also be stored in the inventory to drink when thirsty, but will require a container like an empty bottle or Jerry can. Only water from a well can be drunk and often come few and far between.
As you kill enemies and gather supplies, you will receive experience points and increase your stats slightly as well as bestowing a single ability point. The ability screen is set out like a flow chart, and each ability is tied to another and only abilities connected to a purchased ability can be acquired. Most abilities simply allow you to craft a particular type of potion or ammo type such as incendiary arrows, but some help a small amount with reloading and aiming time, and reduce the depletion of health meters (hunger, thirst, etc). These abilities do not seem to make much difference and you may even forget to spend them with everything else to worry about. Some ammunition cannot be created until later on due to the necessary items required anyway, so having to unlock them seems a little pointless.
My only real complaints about How to Survive are minor annoyances. One would be that after collecting a helmet off of a zombie and equipping it, you have no need for anymore other than the odd one or two to upgrade differently, yet every single zombie with a helmet drops one which – when picking up your arrows in a hurry – quickly fill up your inventory with items you don’t want. “Then why pick them up” I hear you say? Well you really do not have the time to stop and look at every item you come across when trying to grab your arrows and run. And what makes this far more annoying, is how you sometimes need to pick up a crappy old helmet just so that you can interact with something else in the same spot, such as reclaiming your arrow or even talking to someone, and when you have a full inventory already (which is likely), this becomes a real pain. You end up dropping a valued item elsewhere, picking up the helmet, dropping it somewhere else and then picking up your previous item just to allow you to talk to someone. Granted, that won’t happen often because there aren’t many people about, but with items it happens regularly.
Despite finding one or two things fiddly and frustrating, How to Survive is a good game. I found the survival aspect addictive, challenging and most importantly, thrilling. I can’t remember how many times I kicked myself for leaving behind a much needed tool, or kept items that I later realised did nothing useful for me. But hey, that’s what makes it so compelling. All of the tough decisions and character progression work hand-in-hand to create quite an experience that I am in need of playing again, but on a harder difficulty of course. You already know if this game is for you or not but, if you’re unsure, I urge you to give it a try. I’m sure you won’t (
survive ) be disappointed.